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The A to zinc of vitamin deficiency

Vitamins and minerals are vital when it comes to ensuring our bodies are in their best shape and working correctly. So what happens when you have a deficiency, and what can you do about it?

In each and every cell of your body, there are thousands of chemical reactions taking place to process proteins, fats and carbohydrates. An essential part of these chemical reactions are vitamins and minerals. Without these elements, a lot of everyday functions simply wouldn’t happen.

The majority of vitamins and minerals are absorbed through diet; get this right and you’ll get all the vitamins you need. However, more than 80 per cent of Australians don’t eat the recommended serves of fruit and vegetables a day, limiting their intake of vitamin-rich foods and their absorption of much-needed vitamins and minerals. 

Common deficiencies

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies occur for a number of reasons. These can include poor nutritional intake, alcohol abuse, smoking and chronic illnesses.

It’s important to remember that vitamin and mineral deficiencies are highly personalised conditions, however there are some players that pop up time and time again.

As we age, bone strength becomes even more important. Yet many older Australians are deficient in vitamin D and calcium, both of which are essential for bone health.

The dreaded D

Vitamin D deficiency is something that seems to be an epidemic in Australia, despite the amount of sun we are exposed to. The sun turns cholesterol into vitamin D in your skin. Not enough, and it can affect your bones. And of course, bone health is important when it comes to ageing bodies. Older people are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency because they tend to spend less time outdoors, and they are no longer physiologically able to convert the vitamin into its active form as efficiently as younger people.

Lower levels of vitamin D have been associated with diabetes, heart disease, cancer, fractures and, excuse the pun, “everything under the sun”.

Balance your diet

As we get older, our lifestyle and health change. This can influence not only the kinds of food people choose to eat, but also the kinds of food people can eat. This is why some people choose supplements. Many medical professionals believe that, while supplements can have their place in a treatment plan, getting a patient’s diet and exercise right is key.

As with most ailments, preventing a mineral or vitamin deficiency is preferable to trying to treat one. It’s actually very simple: exercise and eat well. Don’t eat rubbish, minimise your alcohol, don't smoke and go for a walk in the sun for 20 minutes every day.

Fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K – are stored in the body for an extended period of time, whereas others – water soluble vitamins such as C and B group – need to be topped up more regularly as there is limited storage capacity in the body.

Eating a nutritionally complete diet should, in most cases, ensure the body has what it needs. When you eat, you ingest the vitamins and minerals present as well as all of the other nutrients such as energy, protein and fat, dietary fibre and water. Generally, our body responds well to the way the nutrients are mixed in the food matrix which can often maximise absorption.

Supplement your food

The first, and most important, thing to note when it comes to supplements is that you should always consult a medical professional. What’s not widely known is that you can actually take too much of a vitamin, causing a toxic effect in your body.

The abc of vitamins and minerals

Vitamin A: for eyesight, immune system and growth

Vitamin B12: for generating new red blood cells and new nerve cells, and processing fats and carbohydrates

Vitamin C: for protection against infections

Vitamin D: for bone health and the health of many organs including the intestine, liver and kidney

Vitamin E: for keeping the membranes around cells healthy

Vitamin K: for improved blood clotting

Calcium: for strong bones and good muscle and nerve function

Iron: for supporting red blood cell function

Zinc: assists with wound healing

Food, glorious food

Keeping healthy means regular check-ups with your healthcare practitioner. The problem with vitamin deficiency is that food often cannot contain high enough amounts of the deficient nutrient to put you back on track quickly. Along with a sensible dietary plan, good supplements can assist in addressing vitamin D, B12, calcium, iron and other deficiencies.”

So what foods should you eat to help ensure you get enough vitamins and minerals?

—  Eggs – B12, calcium, zinc, vitamin E

— Spinach – calcium, iron and magnesium

— Oily fish – omega 3, iron, calcium and B12

— Almonds – calcium, iron, vitamin E and magnesium

— Dairy or fortified non-diary alternatives – Calcium